June 19, 2012
Editor's note: In the months since Tom Johnson's opportunistic advocacy efforts, credit unions have continued to push relentlessly to increase the credit union MBL cap. The NWCUA's governmental affairs team continues to monitor the situation and advocate for the passage of MBL legislation.
On a warm morning in early June, Tom Johnson waited for the elevator to take him from the 14th floor of his high rise hotel in Washington, D.C. to the lobby. As CEO of Spokane Teachers Credit Union (STCU), Johnson was part of the Northwest Credit Union Association’s (NWCUA) delegation involved in the spring “Hike the Hill” lobbying effort. The key focus was urging Congress to raise the cap limiting credit unions’ ability to grant member business loans (MBL).
“I’m on the road talking about it anytime I can, just beating the drum for it,” Johnson said.
While waiting for the elevator, Johnson noticed another businessperson who appeared to be gearing up for an equally busy day. As the doors opened, she noticed Johnson’s “Hike the Hill” nametag and started asking questions about the purpose of his trip.
Johnson told her he was in town to lobby in behalf of credit unions for member business lending legislation. He was prepared to tell her about the benefits more lending could create for communities and workers.
Turns out he didn’t have to. The woman introduced herself as Karen Mills, administrator of the Small Business Administration (SBA). The federal agency is charged with helping small businesses grow and create jobs by helping them get access to capital and training. Mills was appointed to lead the SBA by President Obama in 2009 and was elevated to serve on the President’s Cabinet in 2012.
During the rest of the elevator ride, Johnson found Mills was well versed on the MBL initiative. She was encouraging and wished him success in his lobbying efforts.
The encounter was another successful opportunity Johnson and the Hike the Hill delegation had to keep the conversation going in credit unions’ favor. Whether in a formally scheduled meeting or a random chance to give the “elevator speech,” Johnson is always ready.
Johnson’s $1.5 billion dollar credit union is a leader in Member Business Lending in Spokane, Wash., and is behind much of the area’s commercial real estate and apartment lending. The credit union had already granted 109 new member business loans in the first quarter of 2012. The wave of membership growth that benefitted thousands of credit unions in the last year has brought with it the challenge of balancing net worth ratios, and STCU is no exception.
“With the large increase in deposits in the first quarter, our ratio shrunk a little,” Johnson said. He explained that the Spokane market is very competitive, with community banks aggressively pricing business loans in an attempt to win back some of the customers the big banks chased away. He said while navigating the competitive landscape, STCU is also working to develop even higher-level member business products and services. All of that makes the MBL initiative critical.
“This is important legislation for us, so we chose to take a leadership role,” Johnson said. He credited his staff, including senior communications officer Dan Hansen, with organizing a united credit union community effort—an effort that has already resulted in widespread media coverage. More than 5,000 consumers have signed petitions in STCU branches that have been shared with Congress, credit union staff has become politically active supporting the legislation, and business owners have shared their success stories in letters personally written to Washington’s senators.
“When we speak with one voice as credit unions, it is so much more effective,” Johnson said. He acknowledged Debie Keesee, CEO of Spokane Media Credit Union and an NWCUA board member, for getting the smaller credit unions involved in the “All-In” strategy.
Johnson said STCU and other Spokane credit unions will continue to share small-business stories with the public and with Congress during the summer congressional recess. That includes stories of businesses turned away by banks as well as examples of businesses thriving after receiving a member business loan from a credit union.
“We are going to keep after it,” Johnson said. “We just have to keep the irons in the fire.”
Questions? Contact a member of the Association’s Legislative Affairs team: